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Remembering Melvin Sokolsky Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

15 September 2022

Melvin Sokolsky, whose imaginative shoots fascinated readers of fashion publications, died late last month at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 88.

Born in New York City in 1933 and raised on the Lower East Side, he was the eldest of two sons. He taught himself photography when he was about 10 using his father's box camera.

But he was puzzled that he couldn't make his photos of Butch the dog look like his father's prints. His father's prints, he noticed, had a pearly finish, which led Melvin to appreciate "the importance of the emulsion of the day."

When his father, a pressman for a printing company, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Melvin, then 16, got a job at the post office to support the family.

He was never short of schemes to make money. A bodybuilder himself, he later marketed a line of flattering, form-fitting T-shirts and shorts. He also invented a coin-operated sun lamp for gyms.

He got his break in photography, which he had never abandoned, in 1959 when an art director challenged him to come up with a shot for a fur coat campaign. Then in his mid-twenties, Sokolsky shot a model wrapped in the fur with all the glamour of the roaring 1920s and that pearly finish of his father's cat photos.

Not long after that he was approached by Henry Wolf, the art director of Harper's Bazaar, with an offer. Richard Avedon was the lead photographer for the publication at the time.

Sokolsky went in a different direction from Avedon, shooting models in tenements instead of the high society settings Avedon favored. The shoot was rejected until Diana Vreeland, the fashion editor, argued for them. And suddenly Sokolsky had found his audience.

In 1962, Sokolsky photographed the entire editorial content of McCall's magazine, a first for its time.

In 1963 he shot his famous "bubble" series for Bazaar with models floating in bubbles over various well-know locations in Paris. The bubbles were large Plexiglas orbs suspended by a thin cable subsequently air-brushed out of the image.

But they were not, in his mind, soap bubbles:

In my imagination, when I built the bubble for the Bazaar shoot, I secretly saw it as a Sokolsky aircraft that could fly anywhere on an engine built into one of the rings that contain the bubble hemispheres. It was not a girl captured in a bubble. It was a woman at the helm of her spaceship.

He reprised the shoot in 2015 for Bazaar with Jennifer Aniston in the bubble.

In 1964 Sokolsky was invited by the School of Visual Arts in New York to teach a special class at his studio in New York.

The next year he shot his fantastic Fly fashion series for Bazaar in which models dressed in Dior floated over restaurant tables or Parisian street scenes.

In addition to Bazaar, his work also appeared in Vogue, the New York Times, Esquire, McCall's Newsweek and Show.

His images, including portraits of Hollywood stars like Mia Farrow and Natalie Wood, were shown in galleries and museums, including the Louvre in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Getty in Los Angeles.

At the end of the 1960s he branched out into filming commercials including the "I'm a Pepper" series and the Mark Harmon Coors beer campaign. Many of his commercials, for which he won 25 Clio awards, are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

n 1972, he presented a computerized zoom lens he had designed to the Academy of Arts and Sciences, which was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award.

Sokolsky is survived by his son Bing and his brother Stanley. His wife Button died in 2016.

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